This is one in a series of posts in which we denigrate each team for their flummoxing offseason gaffes, or flatter them for their perspicacious pre-season tactics.
Over the last 20 years, baseball has seen only two teams repeat as World Series champions. The 1992-1993 Toronto Blue Jays, and the mighty New York Yankees of the late 90s. Both of these franchises ensured their return to the promised land by assembling a powerful line-up complimented with pitching and defense. But although that’s the goal for every single team every offseason, so few World Series winners have been able to replicate their success the following year.
So what does it say when a team that missed going to the World Series by a single game, effectively decides to play it safe and field 99% of the same team it fielded the year before? That’s like earning a big fat bonus at the end of the year, only to pad your mattress with it, and that’s exactly what the 2008 Cleveland Indians have done.
Back in January, when we here at UmpBump were contemplating what each team still needed in order to make this offseason a productive one, I was at a loss. The Indiands had barely made any moves in the transaction list, signing Japanese reliever Masahide Kobayashi (no, not that Kobayashi, though you wonder what kind of impact it would have on the OPS), trading for infielder Jamey Carroll and signing Brendan Donnelly to a minor league deal.
And what has changed since? They’ve signed Jorge Julio to another minor league deal.
But who can blame the Indians for not making any significant moves? They certainly didn’t need an upgrade in their rotation, anchored by Cy-Young winner C.C. Sabathia, and featuring the break-out pitcher of 2007, Fausto Carmona. They have one of the most exicting players to watch, Grady Sizemore, patrolling center field; their catcher, Victor Martinez, led all catchers in Home Runs and RBI, and was second in most other offensive categories to Jorge Posada; they have promising young players like Franklin Gutierrez, and prospects like Shin-Soo Choo; and their designated hitter, the fearful Travis “Pronk” Hafner is returning after missing a big chunk of last year’s campaign due to injury.
Here’s what I had to say about the Indians’ bullpen last May, in a “what they need” post:
The only problem has been the bullpen; out of the seven relievers that have pitched more than 11 innings, only two have an ERA under 2.00, while the rest have a 3.10 or higher earned run average.
The Indians have to keep it consistent all season long and they’ll be right there when it’s all said and done. Considering the fact that they still have to play those make up games with Seattle, they might even have a better record than they do now.
Turns out, the Tribe did keep it consistent, and their relievers posted a collective 3.73 ERA, good for fourth in the American League.
So far, the team to take the headlines in the AL Central has been the Tigers, and rightly so. But the Indians were successful last year for playing a solid brand of baseball: strong, productive lineup, excellent pitching, good enough relief, and good defense. The Tigers on the other hand, have not solidified their bullpen – something which may eventually haunt them down the stretch (and let’s not worry about the Twins or the White Sox just yet, they have to be close at the All Star break before we can even begin to consider them contenders).
So sure, if Mark Shapiro was inclined to make some moves before the season got going, he opted to solidify what at some point last year seemed like a weak spot, the bullpen. But glancing over what the Indians did last year, and what they could ostensibly do this year (with a healthy Travis Hafner, I can’t stress that enough), one has to wonder if Shapiro’s decision to stay put is really the opening salvo of a new powerhouse in the American League.
Offseason grade: B-
Additions: Jamey Carroll, Brendan Donnelly, Jorge Julio, Masahide Kobayashi
Losses: Kenny Lofton
Projected lineup, rotation and closer:
CF – Grady Sizemore .277 .390 .462
2B – Asdrubal Cabrera .283 .354 .421
DH- Travis Hafner .266 .385 .451
C – Victor Martinez .301 .374 .505
1B – Ryan Garko .289 .359 .483
SS – Jhonny Peralta .270 .341 .430
3B – Casey Blake .270 .339 .437
RF – Franklin Gutierrez .266 .318 .472
LF – Jason Michaels .270 .324 .397
LH – C.C. Sabathia 19-7, 3.21 ERA
RH – Fausto Carmona 19-8, 3.06 ERA
RH – Paul Byrd 15-8, 4.59 ERA
RH – Jake Westbrook 6-9, 4.32 ERA
LH – Aaron Laffey 4-2, 4.56 ERA
CL Joe Borowski 45 SV, 5.07 ERA
The Indians are like that quiet kid in your class that’s always getting good grades, not A’s but solid B’s, that gets along great with everyone, and that once you’re out of college, you realize he’ll make it to the top because he knew what he was doing all along. Though, their inability to sign C.C. Sabathia long-term does make me wonder. CC’s contract talks have been shelved which cannot be good news (and that translates to the minus in B-). But who knows, maybe when Sabathia is feeling the ticker tape fall on his face come November, he’ll resign then?